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Tim Challies

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A Birthday of Sorts

It was just about two years ago now that I was walking along the shores of Lake Ontario, gazing out across the water and spending some much-needed time in prayer. It was noon and I had escaped my basement office for just a while. I was employed by a good company and was drawing a good salary – almost twice what I had started at when I entered the industry just two years before. We were renting a spacious house and were driving an almost-new car. Yet there I was, pouring my heart out to God, asking if He wanted me to leave this job behind. I had never had a lot of confidence in my ability to discern God’s will for my life. I often heard people use phrases like “God told me” or “I knew God wanted me to” but such concepts were largely foreign to me. Or they were until that day.

Allow me to reminisce a while…

I graduated from McMaster University in 1997 with a bachelor of arts. After three years of focusing primarily on history I was more than ready to look to my future and begin a career. I had a beautiful girlfriend and I intended to ask her to marry me – something I did a mere 30 days after graduation – and looked forward to life with her. But what could I do with a degree in history? As I looked at the job prospects I found there was not a whole lot a person could do with a degree in history. A new Starbucks was opening only minutes from my house, so with little else to do I applied and soon found myself working behind the counter for 8 hours a day (the only male on a staff of 15)! I enjoyed the company despite my hatred of coffee and was fast-tracked to various management positions. There is little doubt in my mind that I could have made a career for myself in that company. My father, though, had different ideas.

My father decided, rightly I’m sure, that a career at Starbucks would be less than fulfilling for me. Though he enjoyed the pound of coffee I brought to him each week, he was willing to sacrifice that to have me begin a career that would hold more promise. He dragged me off to a local college and all but forced me to join a one-year computer program. Though expensive, it offered a career in the lucrative and ever-growing field of computers. The course was held in downtown Hamilton, which is roughly equivalent to downtown Pittsburgh or Buffalo. Despite that drawback, I elected to heed my father’s advice and give it a shot.

After getting married in August of 1998 I resigned from my position at Starbucks and began another round of education. I completed the course several months early and with great grades. I remember one course that I completed in 15 minutes – just long enough to write the exam – and scored 95%. Fortunately most were far more difficult than that one.

I walked out of college in 1999 with a diploma in Network Administration as well as stacks of Microsoft certifications and immediately found employment with a company called Datex Communications Corporation. They were a small mom and pop software and billing company boasting about 20 employees that was based in a beautiful, historic building on the shores of Lake Ontario. Poised for growth, they were just at the point where they needed someone to manage their networks and deal with increasing numbers of technical support issues. I stepped into that role and enjoyed it thoroughly. I was making a rather pitiful wage, but for a young couple with no children and few responsibilities, it was just enough.

I worked at Datex (shortly after I was hired Datex was purchased by ACS, a massive company based in Dallas which needed a product we designed in order to help their Y2K efforts) for almost two years, progressing to the position of Senior LAN Administrator. I did resign at one point due to my pitiful wage and went to work for a company in downtown Toronto, but after only a couple of weeks my previous manager asked me to return and nearly doubled my salary, raising it to a rational amount. But I digress. After Y2K passed with barely a whimper, ACS decided they no longer needed Datex and shut us down, putting all the employees out of work.

I was the last employee to be let go and spent (quite literally) two months sitting in the building with the one other remaining employee. I got to escort everyone to the door and take their security passes from them – often a difficult task. As the building got more and more empty, there was less and less to do. I promised my boss that the day after he was laid-off I would turn his office into a hockey room and that is exactly what happened. No sooner had he left than a hockey net mysteriously appeared in that office and we began day-long hockey-based games. Our only responsibility was to answer the door if anyone rang – an event that usually happened only once a week. There was, quite literally, nothing else to do!

Finally the day came when we received our severance. Fortunately I had done more than play office hockey for the past months and I walked out of Datex and right to my new job which was just a few blocks away. The new company was similar to Datex – a small business that had just been purchased by a much larger American corporation. The work I did was similar to what I had done previously. The office was not very nice – though it was in beautiful downtown Oakville, the offices themselves were in the basement of a rather drab building. My office had no windows. The work was rather repetitive and boring – there was little to stimulate an active mind. The quality of my work began to suffer as boredom took over.

And so it was that I found myself walking along the shores of Lake Ontario, praying about my work situation. I had been doing some Web design work on the side and enjoyed the creativity it required. I had a couple of companies for which I was doing part-time work with their computers and networks. As the work increased I began to think about the prospects of starting my own company. I desperately wanted to do something that I liked and something that would keep my mind active. I looked forward to the prospect of working from home and being able to be my own boss. It was about these issues that I prayed, asking God to give me clarity. I remember praying “God, please just make it crystal clear what you want me to do.” I certainly did not want to move a few steps ahead of God, but I also did not want to drag behind Him.

Still uncertain of my future I returned to the office ready to finish out the day. No sooner had I walked in the door (5 minutes early, as always) that I was told to see my manager immediately. I entered his office and found him sitting there with his boss who had apparently decided to fly up from headquarters in the States. Sure enough, I was being let go once again. I experienced a sense of déjà vu as my boss’ boss explained that my department was being terminated and the jobs would be handled from South of the border. As I heard his words I thought back to my prayer and I laughed. I even told them exactly what I was laughing about and how I had just prayed about my future. They smiled politely, wished me the best and had someone accompany me to my desk to pick up my things.

As I was cleaning up my desk I was dreading having to call my wife to tell her the news. She drove me to work each day and had the car, so I would have to share the news over the phone rather than telling her face-to-face where I knew I could comfort her. As I fretted the phone rang. Answering it I discovered it was my close friend (and pastor of our church) calling. He had never called me at work before, but said that he was at the traffic light outside my building and had just remembered something he had to ask me. I told him to pull into the parking lot and I would be right there! I grabbed my things, walked upstairs into the fresh, spring air and left the corporate world behind. Mere minutes after returning home and sharing the news with Aileen the phone rang once more and this time it was a friend calling to say that their company needed a new Web site and someone who could contract with them to manage their network. And just like that Websonix was born.

It has been two years since I began Websonix. I began it with no money and no loans. There have been some very frugal times, but God has come through for us time and again. We have never had to borrow money and have never had to seriously worry about where money for food or rent was going to come from. I have been able to dedicate lots of time to church and to other ministries that I simply would not have had time for had I been working a nine-to-five. We stand as proof that God lives up to His promise of provision.

Things are still difficult at times, and I don’t suppose it will ever change. People who own their own businesses tell me there is never going to be a time when we can “coast” and I don’t think we would have it any other way. We look forward to experiencing God’s providence, knowing that we can never depend on our own abilities. Through it all we have learned a simple trust and dependence upon our Lord. God truly is good!